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Takeaways from an Irish Locksmith Listing Spam Scandal

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Takeaways from an Irish Locksmith Listing Spam Scandal

The author’s views are entirely their own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

“I did what people normally would do — Googled ‘locksmiths near me.’”

These telltale words preface a scandalous account of listing spam I recently ran into on an Irish call-in radio show on RTÉ. I’m going to share a summary of it in today’s column, offer my best understanding of the root of the problem, and close with takeaways both for consumers and for local business owners who operate in Your-Money-Or-Your-Life (YMYL) industries, like security.

When local search reads like a mystery novel

Host, Katie Hannon, and her team did a good job of structuring this unfolding mystery on the Liveline with Joe Duffy show. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would definitely have gotten hooked into this plot.

Caller #1

On a bank holiday, a woman came home to find herself locked out of her house. She called the first locksmith she found on the web. The locksmith told her the lock cylinder needed to be replaced, did the work, and 5-6 minutes later, presented her with a bill for €391 ($419.35 USD). She had been so frazzled by the ordeal, that it wasn’t until the next day that she began to wonder why the charge was so high, but when she re-contacted the company to ask for a breakdown of the cost, she was informed that while the fee might appear large, it reflected the expertise of their staff.

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Later, a licensed locksmith would confirm for the customer that, on a bank holiday, the charge should have been about €200.

Caller #2

“I did what people normally would do – Googled ‘locksmiths near me.’ I needed it done as quickly as I could. I took the first one that popped up. I spoke with a young lady, and she said she’d have someone get in touch with me,” said the next caller of his experience of hiring a locksmith when his door handle stopped working, when questioned about the locksmith’s online presence, he answered, “It looks very professional with very good reviews. There was certainly nothing to warn you.”

After a series of non-fixes, the locksmith got the caller’s door open but said he’d leave it without any lock unless the customer was willing to pay for replacement of the mechanism. Not wanting to risk having a door that couldn’t be made secure, the customer found himself with a bill for €1,143 ($1,225.87 USD) and began to worry he’d been overcharged when friends remarked that he could have gotten a whole new door for that amount.

Later, a licensed locksmith would confirm that the charge for the work should have totaled less than €500.

Caller #3

When one woman needed a rusty door lock replaced, she did what most of us would do,

“I just Googled ‘Dublin locksmith.’ It had reviews and everything.”

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The locksmith who arrived charged her €60 for the service call but told her he’d need to order a €400 ($429 USD) replacement lock. When some days had gone by with no follow-up, she re-located the Google Business Profile she’d clicked on and again spoke to a receptionist. The receptionist told her she’d need to email the man on the invoice she’d received, but when her email went unanswered, the customer set out to find the elusive locksmith.

Via the Internet, she located a street address, and that took her to the house of a completely different person…

The Case of the Retired Locksmith

Mysterious profile with question mark and key

Caller #4 was the gentleman whom the woman with the rusty door lock found at the Dublin residence, and he is a retired licensed locksmith who served the industry for 45 years. I won’t do screenshots in this piece, but my own research confirmed that he appears to be the victim of impersonation via a Google Business Profile, and other local business listings. The top-ranked listing I found for the search in question featured the retired locksmith’s name and a 4-star rating on the basis of some questionable reviews + a few complaints.

It turns out that not only does the retired licensed locksmith know about this scandal, but he has felt so upset by customers being overcharged by the alleged impersonator, that he has been going to their homes to explain that he is not the service person they contacted and to offer them advice on what steps they might take. He is proud of the reputation he worked hard to build over more than four decades and is understandably unhappy to find his good name being tarnished, saying,

“I wouldn’t have survived this long in business if I had given a bad service to people.”

He has reported the issue to the authorities but has yet to receive a response, and unfortunately, there isn’t much he can tell these homeowners to do. In most cases, they did receive the work they paid for, but the charges simply were not commensurate with industry standards.

Google… I don’t know how they operate their business

During the radio program, Caller #5 phoned in to say that she, too, is a licensed locksmith, and has had four local people reach out to her lately after apparently receiving outrageous charges for basic services from this same entity. She stated:

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“Google, I feel, is partly responsible for providing disinformation, but I don’t know how they operate their business. I would really like to know what is going on beneath all this because I do feel that there is an establishment that may be running companies like this. They’ve seen a niche in the market, and they’ve grabbed onto it, and they are making an absolute fortune. They’re unlicensed, and they are ripping people off.”

And therein lies a very large key to this common problem. Neither consumers nor legitimate business owners in this case (and in many) have a clear idea of what Google’s omnipresent local search results consist of, how they are ranked, or how often they contain spam.

Vulnerabilities in Google’s local search platform make it quite possible for a scenario like this one to take place, of an individual apparently spoofing the identity of another company and creating a listing around it. It’s also possible to hijack the listing of another business and insert your own phone number so that you receive the calls that should be going to your competitor. It’s possible to pay for fake reviews that make a dubious business look trustworthy, and as my honored colleague Joy Hawkins recently reported, you can repeatedly spam Google’s review component without any lasting consequences.

Lack of meaningful competition in the local search space has not motivated Google to fix this problem of listing spam over the past several decades, despite volumes of reporting both by major media outlets and industry journalists. At the same time, Google has never succeeded at widely engaging with or offering adequate support to the millions of local business owners whose data they use to populate their local search results. No matter how many times they rebrand and reshape local search, Google just isn’t getting the basics right to create a trustworthy, manageable platform or consumer experience.

So, where does that leave local business owners and Google users?

The cause and effect of local online scams

worried faces in neighborhood

“You have to be so careful about who you have come to your home to fix a lock or deal with your security.” Katie Hannon, RTÉ host

Misinformation, disinformation, and web spam are a threat to public safety in YMYL scenarios. I remember writing an article nearly twenty years ago about having a medical emergency and realizing that Google’s local pack results were full of inaccurate listings for ERs and hospitals. And clearly, when it comes to home security, no one would want someone untrustworthy working on their locks.

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Meanwhile, I was listening to another Irish call-in show recently in which guests had lost tens of thousands of euros to scammers allegedly claiming to be from the online finance app Revolut, and the subsequent nightmare they’ve gone through in realizing that even the real Revolut isn’t like a real-world local back with an office and phone number you can contact for emergency help if you’re robbed.

Imagine spending 12 hours with a chatbot because it’s the only source of customer service available to you after having $10,000 dollars taken from your account! One of these callers even wondered afterward if the person she was speaking to at the scam company was a real human being or AI with a Dublin accent. Scenarios like these seem to me to stem from and create the following cascade:

  1. Civil societies function on members having a certain degree of respect for authority, whether the authorities are teachers, medical experts, licensed professionals, or government leaders.

  2. Many members of society have mistaken tech companies and their products for authorities, implicitly trusting that if something is as big and powerful as Google, it must be vetted, regulated, accurate, and authoritative.

  3. In non-daily circumstances like suddenly needing a lock changed, having a medical emergency, or thinking your finances might have been compromised, people are flustered. They reach out for the quickest possible help to get themselves out of trouble and are not in any state to use their best critical thinking. Very intelligent people who say they would normally know not to give out sensitive information to strangers find themselves doing so in emergencies.

  4. Because scammers know people are vulnerable during a time of stress, they build business models around exploiting others during these episodes.

  5. This is a global problem that no government, regulatory body, or tech company has effectively solved. It has been nearly 20 years since Google Maps first appeared, and in the US, there are still no meaningful consequences for a search engine that profits from publishing spam that fools, misleads, misdirects, and even harms people. Regulation does not keep pace with rapid technological development.

  6. Invested tech companies are now actively worsening this problem by presenting AI as an authoritative source of information rather than as an amalgamation of whatever data it has been fed, good or bad, real or not real. If countless people have already been scammed by others who use platforms like Google Business Profile to misrepresent themselves via spam listings and reviews, there’s pretty much no end to what bad actors could do with the opportunities AI will offer to spoof legitimate entities to disastrous consequence.

The effects of scams on communities are deeply serious. Scams undermine how humans feel about the societies they live in. Living in a setting in which people have to be constantly suspicious of their neighbors is stressful, and long-term stress undermines physical health. Some callers I listened to expressed shame at having been fooled, and others were reticent about admitting to anyone that they were swindled for fear of looking out-of-step with the times and the tech. All of them suffered financially, which is especially difficult in Ireland right now given that its people are experiencing what they call a “cost of living crisis,” which appears to have its same root as the 40-year transfer-of-wealth scam American economists cite as the cause of our present state of poverty in the US.

Thieves have always existed. The internet has simply allowed them to scale up and cause harm to vast numbers of people. When societies are unprepared and unprotected from swindles, an unfortunate outcome is that people have to look out for themselves (a very anti-social state of affairs that improves life for no one), but this is where I believe we’re at in the absence of better regulation, and I’ve got a few tips to share.

Tips for increased safety amid Google Business Profile spam

Neighbors talking to one another on front porch.

Let’s start with tips for customers folks like you and me who are using the internet to navigate our local landscape:

1. Understand that spam is widespread on Google

    Know that it is very easy to create illegitimate Google Business Profile listings and that a recent large-scale study by Uberall found that Google is the platform with the highest percentage of suspicious local business reviews. Know that Google does not have adequate safeguards in place to identify and remove fraudulent information from their product. The local results you see when you search for nearby businesses may well contain both fake listings and fake reviews and do not deserve your unqualified trust.

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    2. In a quiet moment, create a list

      To protect yourself from being manipulated in a time of stress, consider the types of sudden incidents that take people unawares at some point or another in many of our lives. These might include:

      • Medical incidents requiring emergency assistance

      • Auto accidents and malfunctions requiring roadside assistance, auto repairs, and sometimes legal assistance

      • Security needs, like locksmith assistance or home security malfunctions

      • Damages from weather events like storms or fires, requiring rescue or urgent remediation services

      • Household malfunctions like septic overflows or plumbing problems, garage door failures, major appliance repairs or replacements, and other needs that require urgent assistance

      • Financial emergencies, such as fearing your banking card has been lost or stolen

      It may sound like I’m trying to turn back the hands of the clock to pre-internet times, but at this point, you will be better off writing a list of the names, phone numbers, and addresses of reputable resources and keeping a copy of it in your wallet, purse, vehicle, and home rather than trusting random local business listings for YMYL scenarios. You could definitely put the list on your mobile phone, but you might want a paper copy as well in case your phone gets hacked, lost, or runs out of juice.

      When you are not in the middle of an emergency, you can thoroughly research and contact your options to vet them. You can ask your friends and family for recommendations. And if you are traveling even a little distance from home, you can make such a list to protect yourself from being scammed in an unfamiliar setting.

      In short, Google may be fine for helping find a quick cup of coffee or a slice of pizza, but don’t trust the local packs or Google Maps if your money, health, bank account, or life is at stake. Don’t invest Google’s results with an authority or accuracy they don’t possess. As a seasoned local SEO, I don’t like having to say this, but it’s my honest take on the state of affairs.

      3. Start relying more on people in your life and less on the internet for YMYL decisions

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      Speaking of ethical scandals, we all need to be bracing ourselves right now. Large publishers you once trusted for vetted, fact-checked information that is hand-researched and hand-written by experts and authorities, may be making decisions right now to replace some of their staff with AI. We are already seeing results in the form of shocking pieces being published like this one (now removed) from Microsoft, which advised tourists to Ottawa to enjoy visiting a local food bank on an empty stomach.

      The combination of spam local business listings and reviews + the increase of what could be a real mess of AI-generated nonsense in both chat-based and organic results could mean you should be very careful of letting the internet be your guide when making decisions that involve your life, health, money, security, or major purchases. Publishers have profit goals in view in replacing human authors with AI-generated information, but you need recommendations from people who have your best interests in mind. And that, of course, lands you back in the circle of your friends and family.

      You are likely better off asking your mother, your neighbor, or your friend from work where to find a trustworthy outfit to replace your broken windshield than you are asking ChatGPT, Bard, New Bing, local listings, or organic results. You are likely better off steering clear of the web and asking your existing doctor where to find a specialist, if the need arises. Word-of-mouth recommendations are a tried-and-true method that long pre-dates the internet of finding reliable help, and it works on the basis of trusting that real people in your life want the best for you. They may not always get it right, but lived experiences are a rich source of useful information we all can share.

      4. Know that asking to see credentials is not bad manners

      Know the licensing laws of your country and/or state and request that any service provider show you proof of their credentials before you contract with them. I’ve heard kind people say they worry it sounds rude to ask for this documentation, but remember that legitimate service providers have to go through all kinds of steps to earn their credentials, and they will not be in any way annoyed by sharing the results of their efforts to be compliant with regulations. These credentials set them apart from scammers they already know exist in their geographic markets. If a potential contractor makes a fuss about proving they are licensed, it’s a red flag to you that they don’t have the necessary proof.

      In sum, the internet can be a great place for local consumers to browse their communities and connect with local businesses, but when it comes to specific high-risk categories and transactions, you will be safer if you do your research ahead of sudden events and make sure you are working with licensed professionals with legitimate business credentials and contact information.

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      Stainless steel water bottle with business branding

      Now let’s turn to the local business side of this story. What can you do if you know your Google Business Profile categories are polluted with spammers, putting your neighbors and potential customers at risk of being scammed?

      1. Report what you can

        This shouldn’t be part of your job description; it should be Google’s responsibility to keep their index as free as possible from spam listings and reviews that violate their own guidelines. Nevertheless, you can report spammers to Google, and sometimes they will act on those reports, and that may help you move up in the local rankings. However, do go into this knowing Google often won’t act and that spammers will often simply come back. It’s not ideal, but you do have the following options for reporting:

        • Use the Business Redressal Complaint Form to report Google listings you are convinced are spam and in violation of the guidelines, or review profiles you believe are the result of forbidden activities.

        • If three weeks pass and you have seen no movement on what you’ve reported, you also have the option to post your redressal case ID in the Google Business Profile Community help forum to ask a product expert to consider escalating your case.

        2. Treat credential content as central rather than as an afterthought

        On your website, social profiles, and in areas of your listings like Google Updates (formerly known as Google Posts), create content that explains what your credentials are, and why you have them. Too often, service providers’ sites simply have a license number in the header or footer, with no explanation of why it matters. Build core content that educates potential customers as to what legal requirements there are in your field for licensed or credentialed providers, and take the opportunity to warn your community against spammers and scammers by teaching people to ask to see credentials before they hire anyone.

        3. Don’t abandon business cards and fridge magnets

        Tech news might make you think that everything has to happen online these days, but the truth is, being generous with handing out business cards, magnets, car stickers, and other tangible marketing assets with your contact and credential information on them is a great way to ensure customers come back to you in a moment of stress, instead of going with another random provider they find online. The oil change business I go to always places a little transparent window cling on my car that is branded with their name, contact info, and the date I should come in for my next service. Any service provider can offer a physical reminder to the customer of whom they should trust when the time comes.

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        4. Build a simple referral program

          This is very easy to do when your business is a cafe or grocery store that locals visit on a regular basis. Offering a free cup of coffee after a customer’s fifth visit or a coupon for ½ off dinner with a friend is simple. But when you are in a YMYL category, chances are good that the same customer isn’t going to need you on a regular basis. What you want is for them to share your good name with their friends and family in advance of the need arising, and a branded merchandise campaign could be one good option for accomplishing this.

          For example, imagine you own an auto glass repair company. You might invest in branded stainless steel water bottles that people can take in their cars instead of plastic. Your branding can include your name, phone number, address, and credentials, as well as your logo. When completing a job for a customer, you could let them know you have a special offer of one of these bottles if they agree to give a second one to a local friend or family member. You’ll not only be reducing plastic consumption in your community, but you’ll also be getting your brand name into people’s cars so that they remember it right away if their car window gets damaged. A plumber might offer a toilet brush set. A locksmith might offer a cool keychain charm. The point is to get your trusted name into the hands of your neighbors when they need you, making them safer from scammers and earning you new business.

          In sum, you have some options for reporting online spam to Google, but your strongest bet will be to build real-world relationships with the people in your community so that they learn to trust you and recommend you to their circle.

          Local listing and review spam harms communities, and AI is likely to take scams to as-yet-undreamt-of levels. While the internet is an amazing tool for finding things, it cannot replace the offline social contract of trust that surrounds time-honored word-of-mouth recommendations amongst family and friends. When your money or life is on the line, or if your business provides services for people with urgent, unexpected needs, trust is a must.

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Only 6% of global marketers apply customer insights to product and brand

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Only 6% of global marketers apply customer insights to product and brand

While many brands talk about focusing on the customer, few do it. Less than a quarter (24%) of global brands are mapping customer behavior and sentiment, according to Braze’s 2024 Customer Engagement Review. What’s worse, only 6% apply customer insights to their product and brand approach.

“At the end of the day, a lot of companies operate based on their structure and not how the consumer interacts with them,” Mariam Asmar, VP of strategic consulting, told MarTech. “And while some companies have done a great job of reorienting that, with roles like the chief customer officer, there are many more that still don’t. Cross-channel doesn’t exist because there are still all these silos. But the customer doesn’t care about your silos. The customer doesn’t see silos. They see a brand.”

Half of all marketers report either depending on multiple, siloed point solutions to cobble together a multi-channel experience manually (33%); or primarily relying on single-channel solutions (17%).  Only 30% have access to a single customer engagement platform capable of creating personalized, seamless experiences across channels. This is a huge problem when it comes to cross-channel, personalization.

The persistence of silos

The persistence of data silos despite decades of explanation about the problems they cause, surprised Asmar the most.

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Screenshot 2024 02 27 140015
Source: Braze 2024 Global Customer Engagement Review

“Why are we still talking about this?” she said to MarTech. “One of the themes I see in the report is we’re still getting caught up on some of the same stumbling blocks as before.”

She said silos are indicative of teams working on different goals and “the only way that gets unsolved is if a leader comes in and aligns people towards some of those goals.”

These silos also hinder the use of AI, something 99% of respondents said they were already doing. The top uses of AI by marketers are:

  • Generating creative ideas (48%).
  • Automating repetitive tasks (47%).
  • Optimizing strategies in real-time (47%).
  • Enhancing data analysis (47%).
  • Powering predictive analytics (45%).
  • Personalizing campaigns (44%). 

Despite the high usage numbers, less than half of marketers have any interest in exploring AI’s potential to enhance customer engagement. Asmar believes there are two main reasons for this. First is that many people like the systems they know and understand. The other reason is a lack of training on the part of companies.

Dig deeper: 5 ways CRMs are leveraging AI to automate marketing today

“I think about when I was in advertising and everybody switched to social media,” she told MarTech. “Companies acted like ‘Well, all the marketers will just figure out social media.’ You can’t do that because whenever you’re teaching somebody how to do something new there’s always a level of training them up, even though they’re apps that we use every day, as people using them as a business and how they apply, how we get impact from them.”

The good news is that brands are setting the stage for the data agility they need.

  • 50% export performance feedback to business intelligence platforms to generate advanced analytics.
  • 48% sync performance with insights generated by other platforms in the business.

Also worth noting: Marketers say these are the four main obstacles to creativity and strategy:  

  • Emphasis on KPIs inherently inhibits a focus on creativity (42%).
  • Too much time spent on business-as-usual execution and tasks (42%).
  • Lack of technology to execute creative ideas, (41%).
  • Hard to demonstrate ROI impact of creativity (40%).
Screenshot 2024 02 27 135952Screenshot 2024 02 27 135952

Methodology

The 2024 Global Customer Engagement Review (registration required) is based on insights from 1,900 VP+ marketing decision-makers across 14 countries in three global regions: The Americas (Brazil, Mexico, and the US), APAC (Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea), and EMEA (France, Germany, Spain, the UAE, and the UK).

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Crafting Effortless Sales Through ‘Wow’ Moments in Experience Marketing

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Crafting Effortless Sales Through 'Wow' Moments in Experience Marketing

Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing

In an era where consumers are bombarded with endless choices and digital noise, standing out as a brand is more challenging than ever. Enter experience marketing – a strategy that transcends traditional advertising by focusing on creating immersive, memorable interactions. This innovative approach leverages the elements of surprise, delight, and reciprocity to forge strong emotional connections with customers, making the sale of your core product feel effortless. But how can businesses implement this strategy effectively? This guide delves into the art of crafting ‘wow’ moments that captivate audiences and transform customer engagement.

The Basics of Experience Marketing

Experience marketing is an evolved form of marketing that focuses on creating meaningful interactions with customers, aiming to elicit strong emotional responses that lead to brand loyalty and advocacy. Unlike conventional marketing, which often prioritizes product promotion, experience marketing centers on the customer’s holistic journey with the brand, creating a narrative that resonates on a personal level.

In today’s competitive market, experience marketing is not just beneficial; it’s essential. It differentiates your brand in a crowded marketplace, elevating your offerings beyond mere commodities to become integral parts of your customers’ lives. Through memorable experiences, you not only attract attention but also foster a community of loyal customers who are more likely to return and recommend your brand to others.

Principles of Experience Marketing

At the heart of experience marketing lie several key principles:

  • Emotional Connection: Crafting campaigns that touch on human emotions, from joy to surprise, creating memorable moments that customers are eager to share.
  • Customer-Centricity: Putting the customer’s needs and desires at the forefront of every marketing strategy, ensuring that each interaction adds value and enhances their experience with the brand.
  • Immersive Experiences: Utilizing technology and storytelling to create immersive experiences that captivate customers, making your brand a living part of their world.
  • Engagement Across Touchpoints: Ensuring consistent, engaging experiences across all customer touchpoints, from digital platforms to physical stores.

Understanding Your Audience

Before diving into the intricacies of crafting ‘wow’ moments, it’s crucial to understand who you’re creating these moments for. Identifying your audience’s pain points and desires is the first step in tailoring experiences that truly resonate.

1709033181 544 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing1709033181 544 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing

This involves deep market research, customer interviews, and leveraging data analytics to paint a comprehensive picture of your target demographic. By understanding the journey your customers are on, you can design touchpoints that not only meet but exceed their expectations.

  • Identifying Pain Points and Desires: Use surveys, social media listening, and customer feedback to gather insights. What frustrates your customers about your industry? What do they wish for more than anything else? These insights will guide your efforts to create experiences that truly resonate.
  • Mapping the Customer Journey: Visualize every step a customer takes from discovering your brand to making a purchase and beyond. This map will highlight critical touchpoints where you can introduce ‘wow’ moments that transform the customer experience.

Developing Your Experience Marketing Strategy

With a clear understanding of your audience, it’s time to build the framework of your experience marketing strategy. This involves setting clear objectives, identifying key customer touchpoints, and conceptualizing the experiences you want to create.

  • Setting Objectives: Define what you aim to achieve with your experience marketing efforts. Whether it’s increasing brand awareness, boosting sales, or improving customer retention, having clear goals will shape your approach and help measure success.
  • Strategic Touchpoint Identification: List all the potential touchpoints where customers interact with your brand, from social media to in-store experiences. Consider every stage of the customer journey and look for opportunities to enhance these interactions.

Enhancing Customer Experiences with Surprise, Delight, and Reciprocity

This section is where the magic happens. By integrating the elements of surprise, delight, and reciprocity, you can elevate ordinary customer interactions into unforgettable experiences.

1709033181 790 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing1709033181 790 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing
  • Incorporating Surprise and Delight: Go beyond what’s expected. This could be as simple as a personalized thank-you note with each purchase or as elaborate as a surprise gift for loyal customers. The key is to create moments that feel special and unexpected.
  • Applying the Principle of Reciprocity: When customers receive something of value, they’re naturally inclined to give something back. This can be leveraged by offering helpful resources, exceptional service, or customer appreciation events. Such gestures encourage loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.
  • Examples and Case Studies: Highlight real-world examples of brands that have successfully implemented these strategies. Analyze what they did, why it worked, and how it impacted their relationship with customers.

Best Practices for Experience Marketing

To ensure your experience marketing strategy is as effective as possible, it’s important to adhere to some best practices.

  • Personalization at Scale: Leverage data and technology to personalize experiences without losing efficiency. Tailored experiences make customers feel valued and understood.
  • Using Technology to Enhance Experiences: From augmented reality (AR) to mobile apps, technology offers myriad ways to create immersive experiences that surprise and engage customers.
  • Measuring Success: Utilize analytics tools to track the success of your experience marketing initiatives. Key performance indicators (KPIs) could include engagement rates, conversion rates, and customer satisfaction scores.

Section 5: Overcoming Common Challenges

Even the best-laid plans can encounter obstacles. This section addresses common challenges in experience marketing and how to overcome them.

1709033181 656 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing1709033181 656 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing
  • Budget Constraints: Learn how to create impactful experiences without breaking the bank. It’s about creativity, not just expenditure.
  • Maintaining Consistency: Ensuring a consistent brand experience across all touchpoints can be daunting. Develop a comprehensive brand guideline and train your team accordingly.
  • Staying Ahead of Trends: The digital landscape is ever-changing. Stay informed about the latest trends in experience marketing and be ready to adapt your strategy as necessary.

The Path to Effortless Sales

By creating memorable experiences that resonate on a personal level, you make the path to purchase not just easy but natural. When customers feel connected to your brand, appreciated, and valued, making a sale becomes a byproduct of your relationship with them. Experience marketing, when done right, transforms transactions into interactions, customers into advocates, and products into passions.

Now is the time to reassess your marketing strategy. Are you just selling a product, or are you providing an unforgettable experience? Dive into the world of experience marketing and start creating those ‘wow’ moments that will not only distinguish your brand but also make sales feel effortless.


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The Current State of Google’s Search Generative Experience [What It Means for SEO in 2024]

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The Current State of Google's Search Generative Experience [What It Means for SEO in 2024]

SEO enthusiasts, known for naming algorithm updates after animals and embracing melodrama, find themselves in a landscape where the “adapt or die” mantra prevails. So when Google announced the launch of its Search Generative Experience (SGE) in May of 2023 at Google/IO, you can imagine the reaction was immense.

Although SGE has the potential to be a truly transformative force in the landscape, we’re still waiting for SGE to move out of the Google Labs Sandbox and integrate into standard search results. 

Curious about our current take on SGE and its potential impact on SEO in the future? Read on for more.

Decoding Google’s Defensive Move

In response to potential threats from competitors like ChatGPT, Bing, TikTok, Reddit, and Amazon, Google introduced SGE as a defensive maneuver. However, its initial beta release raised questions about its readiness and global deployment.

ChatGPT provided an existential threat that had the potential to eat into Google’s market share. When Bing started incorporating it into its search results, it was one of the most significant wins for Bing in a decade. In combination with threats from TikTok, Reddit, and Amazon, we see a more fractured search landscape less dominated by Google. Upon its launch, the expectation was that Google would push its SGE solution globally, impact most queries, and massively shake up organic search results and strategies to improve organic visibility.

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Now, industry leaders are starting to question if Google is better off leaving SGE in the testing ground in Google labs. According to Google’s recent update, it appears that SGE will remain an opt-in experience in Google Labs (for at least the short term). If SGE was released, there could be a fundamental reset in understanding SEO. Everything from organic traffic to optimization tactics to tracking tools would need adjustments for the new experience. Therefore, the prospect of SGE staying in Google Labs is comforting if not entirely reliable. 

The ever-present option is that Google can change its mind at any point and push SGE out broadly as part of its standard search experience. For this reason, we see value in learning from our observations with SGE and continuing to stay on top of the experience.

SGE User Experience and Operational Challenges

If you’ve signed up for search labs and have been experimenting with SGE for a while, you know firsthand there are various issues that Google should address before rolling it out broadly to the public.

At a high level, these issues fall into two broad categories including user experience issues and operational issues.

Below are some significant issues we’ve come across, with Google making notable progress in addressing certain ones, while others still require improvement:

  • Load time – Too many AI-generated answers take longer to load than a user is willing to wait. Google recommends less than a 3-second load time to meet expectations. They’ll need to figure out how to consistently return results quickly if they want to see a higher adoption rate.
  • Layout – The SGE layout is massive. We believe any major rollout will be more streamlined to make it a less intrusive experience for users and allow more visibility for ads, and if we’re lucky, organic results. Unfortunately, there is still a decent chance that organic results will move below the fold, especially on mobile devices. Recently, Google has incorporated more results where users are prompted to generate the AI result if they’d like to see it. The hope is Google makes this the default in the event of a broad rollout where users can generate an AI result if they want one instead of assuming that’s what a user would like to see. 
  • Redundancy – The AI result duplicates features from the map pack and quick answer results. 
  • Attribution – Due to user feedback, Google includes sources on several of their AI-powered overviews where you can see relevant web pages if there is an arrow next to the result. Currently, the best way to appear as one of these relevant pages is to be one of the top-ranked results, which is convenient from an optimization standpoint. Changes to how attribution and sourcing are handled could heavily impact organic strategies. 

 

On the operational side, Google also faces significant hurdles to making SGE a viable product for its traditional search product. The biggest obstacle appears to be making the cost associated with the technology worth the business outcomes it provides. If this was a necessary investment to maintain market share, Google might be willing to eat the cost, but if their current position is relatively stable, Google doesn’t have much of an incentive to take on the additional cost burden of heavily leveraging generative AI while also presumably taking a hit to their ad revenue. Especially since slow user adoption doesn’t indicate this is something users are demanding at the moment.

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While the current experience of SGE is including ads above the generative results now, the earliest iterations didn’t heavily feature sponsored ads. While they are now included, the current SGE layout would still significantly disrupt the ad experience we’re used to. During the Google I/O announcement, they made a statement to reassure advertisers they would be mindful of maintaining a distinct ad experience in search.  

“In this new generative experience, Search ads will continue to appear in dedicated ad slots throughout the page. And we’ll continue to uphold our commitment to ads transparency and making sure ads are distinguishable from organic search results” – Elizabeth Reid, VP, Search at Google

Google is trying to thread a delicate needle here of staying on the cutting edge with their search features, while trying not to upset their advertisers and needlessly hinder their own revenue stream. Roger Montti details more of the operational issues in a recent article digging into the surprising reasons SGE is stuck in Google Labs.

He lists three big problems that need to be solved before SGE will be integrated into the foreground of search:

  1. Large Language Models being inadequate as an information retrieval system
  2. The inefficiency and cost of transformer architecture
  3. Hallucinating (providing inaccurate answers)

 

Until SGE provides more user value and checks more boxes on the business sense side, the traditional search experience is here to stay. Unfortunately, we don’t know when or if Google will ever feel confident they’ve addressed all of these concerns, so we’ll need to stay prepared for change.

Experts Chime in on Search Generative Experience

Our team has been actively engaging with SGE, here’s a closer look at their thoughts and opinions on the experience so far:

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“With SGE still in its early stages, I’ve noticed consistent changes in how the generative results are produced and weaved naturally into the SERPs. Because of this, I feel it is imperative to stay on top of these on-going changes to ensure we can continue to educate our clients on what to expect when SGE is officially incorporated into our everyday lives. Although an official launch date is currently unknown, I believe proactively testing various prompt types and recording our learnings is important to prepare our clients for this next evolution of Google search.” – Jon Pagano, SEO Sr. Specialist at Tinuiti

“It’s been exciting to watch SGE grow through different variations over the last year, but like other AI solutions its potential still outweighs its functionality and usefulness. What’s interesting to see is that SGE doesn’t just cite its sources of information, but also provides an enhanced preview of each webpage referenced. This presents a unique organic opportunity where previously untouchable top 10 rankings are far more accessible to the average website. Time will tell what the top ranking factors for SGE are, but verifiable content with strong E-E-A-T signals will be imperative. –Kate Fischer, SEO Specialist at Tinuiti

“Traditionally, AI tools were very good at analytical tasks. With the rise of ChatGPT, users can have long-form, multi-question conversations not yet available in search results. When, not if, released, Google’s Generative Experience will transform how we view AI and search. Because there are so many unknowns, some of the most impactful ways we prepare our clients are to discover and develop SEO strategies that AI tools can’t directly disrupt, like mid to low funnel content.” – Brandon Miller, SEO Specialist at Tinuiti

“SGE is going to make a huge impact on the ecommerce industry by changing the way users interact with the search results. Improved shopping experience will allow users to compare products, price match, and read reviews in order to make it quicker and easier for a user to find the best deals and purchase. Although this leads to more competitive results, it also improves organic visibility and expands our product reach. It is more important than ever to ensure all elements of a page are uniquely and specifically optimized for search. With the SGE updates expected to continue to impact search results, the best way to stay ahead is by focusing on strong user focused content and detailed product page optimizations.”  – Kellie Daley, SEO Sr. Specialist at Tinuiti

Navigating the Clash of Trends

One of the most interesting aspects of the generative AI trend in search is that it appears to be in direct opposition to other recent trends.

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One of the ways Google has historically evaluated the efficacy of its search ranking systems is through the manual review of quality raters. In their quality rater guidelines, raters were instructed to review for things like expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (EAT) in results to determine if Google results are providing users the information they deserve. 

In 2022, Google updated their search guidelines to include another ‘e’ in the form of experience (EEAT). In their words, Google wanted to better assess if the content a user was consuming was created by someone with, “a degree of experience, such as with actual use of a product, having actually visited a place or communicating what a person has experienced. There are some situations where really what you value most is content produced by someone who has firsthand, life experience on the topic at hand.” 

Generative AI results, while cutting-edge technology and wildly impressive in some cases, stand in direct opposition to the principles of E-E-A-T. That’s not to say that there’s no room for both in search, but Google will have to determine what it thinks users value more between these competing trends. The slow adoption of SGE could be an indication that a preference for human experience, expertise, authority, and trust is winning round one in this fight. 

Along these lines, Google is also diversifying its search results to cater to the format in which users get their information. This takes the form of their Perspectives Filter. Also announced at Google I/O 2023, the perspectives filter incorporates more video, image, and discussion board posts from places like TikTok, YouTube, Reddit, and Quora. Once again, this trend shows the emphasis and value searchers place on experience and perspective. Users value individual experience over the impersonal conveyance of information. AI will never have these two things, even if it can provide a convincing imitation.

The current iteration of SGE seems to go too far in dismissing these trends in favor of generative AI. It’s an interesting challenge Google faces. If they don’t determine the prevailing trend correctly, veering too far in one direction can push more market share to ChatGPT or platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

Final Thoughts

The range of outcomes remains broad and fascinating for SGE. We can see this developing in different ways, and prognostication offers little value, but it’s invaluable to know the potential outcomes and prepare for as many of them as possible.

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It’s critical that you or your search agency be interacting and experimenting with SGE because:

  • The format and results will most likely continue to see significant changes
  • This space moves quickly and it’s easy to fall behind
  • Google may fix all of the issues with SGE and decide to push it live, changing the landscape of search overnight
  • SGE experiments could inform other AI elements incorporated into the search experience

 

Ultimately, optimizing for the specific SGE experience we see now is less important because we know it will inevitably continue changing. We see more value in recognizing the trends and problems Google is trying to solve with this technology. With how quickly this space moves, any specifics mentioned in this article could be outdated in a week. That’s why focusing on intention and process is important at this stage of the game.

By understanding the future needs and wants SGE is attempting to address, we can help you future-proof your search strategies as much as possible. To some extent we’re always at the whims of the algorithm, but by maintaining a user-centric approach, you can make your customers happy, regardless of how they find you.

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